Wrapping up DC trip amid diplomatic efforts to prevent all-out war, Gallant says Israel could send Lebanon to ‘back to the Stone Age’ but doesn’t want escalation with Hezbollah

A damaged Israeli military position targeted by Hezbollah is seen on the top of Mount Hermon in the Golan Heights, where the borders between Israel, Syria and Lebanon meet on June 26, 2024. (AP Photo/Hussein Malla)

The United States on Thursday joined a growing list of countries that have advised their citizens to leave Lebanon due to the risk of war as tensions between Israel and the Hezbollah terror group continue to spiral.

The US call came as Defense Minister Yoav Gallant warned during a visit to Washington that Israel was capable of sending Lebanon “back to the Stone Age” in any war with Hezbollah, though he stressed that a diplomatic solution is preferred.

“We do not want war, but we are preparing for every scenario,” Gallant told reporters Wednesday at the end of a four-day visit during which he held talks with top officials. “Hezbollah understands very well that we can inflict massive damage in Lebanon if a war is launched.”

Months of clashes with Lebanon’s Iran-backed Hezbollah terror group are feared to be on the verge of escalating to a full-scale war that the United States and other countries have been scrambling to avert.

The security cabinet, Israel’s official decision making forum for the war since National Unity leader Benny Gantz’s departure from the government last month, will convene Thursday to discuss the possibility of total war against Hezbollah.

A notice from the US Embassy in Lebanon published on Thursday strongly advised nationals to reconsider travel to the country, and said that “US citizens in Lebanon should not travel to southern Lebanon, the Lebanon-Syria border area, or refugee settlements.”

On Wednesday, Dutch and German authorities urged their nationals to leave Lebanon due to the risk of war.

The Lebanese Al-Akhbar newspaper reported on Thursday that the majority of Western embassies — especially European missions — had already examined the Lebanese coast for potential sites from which to evacuate their citizens by sea should war break out between Israel and Hezbollah.

Defense Minister Yoav Gallant in a video message from the White House, June 26, 2024. (Screenshot/Elad Malka)

Since October 8, Hezbollah-led forces have attacked Israeli communities and military posts along the border on a near-daily basis, with the group saying it is doing so to support Gaza amid the war against the Hamas terror group there. In recent weeks, a number of countries have sounded the alarm that an escalation to the ongoing skirmishes across the Israel-Lebanon border is imminent.

The Al-Akhbar report added that Qatari special envoy Jassim Al Thani was due in Beirut to meet with defense officials from Lebanon, Hezbollah, and Amal — A Hezbollah-allied group — in an effort de-escalate tensions with Israel.

Also this week, Lebanon’s Foreign Minister Abdullah Bouhabib was set to meet with European Union officials in Brussels to discuss efforts to prevent an all-out war.

Josep Borrell, the outgoing EU foreign policy chief, attended a “working lunch” on Wednesday with Bouhabib, where the ministers discussed the “possibility of the European Union contributing to reducing the escalation and tension in southern Lebanon,” according to a statement by Lebanon’s National News Agency.

In a Wednesday post on social media platform X, Borrell cautioned that in the case of war between Israel and Lebanon, the EU would be affected as well.

After meeting with European diplomats in Belgium, Bouhabib was set to fly to the US to meet with United Nations representatives in New York and with American officials in Washington, DC. He will also hold talks in Canada with his Canadian counterpart.

The minister’s tour of Europe and North America aims to “follow up on Lebanon’s efforts to reduce escalation and avoid a large-scale war in the south that portends an open regional war,” according to Lebanon’s National News Agency.

So far, the skirmishes on the border have resulted in 10 civilian deaths on the Israeli side, as well as the deaths of 15 IDF soldiers and reservists. There have also been several attacks from Syria, without any injuries. Hezbollah has named 350 members who have been killed by Israel during the ongoing skirmishes, mostly in Lebanon but some also in Syria. In Lebanon, another 64 operatives from other terror groups, a Lebanese soldier, and dozens of civilians have been killed.

Hezbollah announced on Thursday the death of one of its members, Ali al-Din from the town of Sohmor, saying he was killed “on the road to Jerusalem,” the terror group’s term for operatives slain in Israeli strikes.

The announcement came following reports of an Israeli drone strike on a motorcycle in Sohmor, in the Western Beqaa District, which killed at least one person.

The IDF later confirmed the strike, saying that al-Din, was behind drone attacks on northern Israel.

Separately, the IDF said fighter jets struck buildings used by the terror group in Houla and Aitaroun. It added that troops also shelled areas in southern Lebanon with artillery.

Meanwhile, two explosive-laden drones launched by Hezbollah at the Western Galilee struck areas near Rosh Hanikra, the military said.

The IDF said there were no injuries in the attack. Hezbollah took responsibility, claiming to have targeted a Navy base.

On Wednesday, the Israel Defense Forces struck Hezbollah targets in Lebanon. Hezbollah fired several anti-tank missiles across the border as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Isaac Herzog toured the north of Israel and the United Nations warned that a full-blown war between the two sides would be “apocalyptic.”

View of a house that was hit from a rocket fired from Lebanon into the northern Israeli city of Kiryat Shmona, seen on June 24, 2024. (David Cohen/Flash90)

Meanwhile, Israeli troops carried out exercises this past week simulating fighting in Lebanon, which the military said was part of the Northern Command’s efforts to increase readiness amid heightened tensions on the northern border.

The Golani Brigade’s 12th Brigade, which has been operating in the Mount Dov and Mount Hermon areas on the northern border, carried out a drill simulating fighting in complex terrain, according to the military, while another drill, carried out by the 55th Reserve Paratroopers Brigade, practiced various combat scenarios, including movement in complex terrain and advancing along a “mountainous route.”

Early in the war, Israel evacuated communities along the border with Lebanon, fearing Hezbollah would carry out an onslaught similar to Hamas’s. Over eight months later, some 60,000 residents of northern Israel remain displaced.

As reported by The Times of Israel